March 10, 2003

George H.W. Bush Weighs in

According to the London Times, George H.W. Bush has weighed in. In the London Times's precis of his speech, George H.W. Bush likes using the U.N. He likes multilateralism. He likes remembering who our real long-term allies are. He fears that unilateral U.S. action will poison the well, and diminish rather than enhance the long-term prospects for peace in the Middle East.


Times Online: Bush Sr warning over unilateral action | From Roland Watson in Washington

THE first President Bush has told his son that hopes of peace in the Middle East would be ruined if a war with Iraq were not backed by international unity.

Drawing on his own experiences before and after the 1991 Gulf War, Mr Bush Sr said that the brief flowering of hope for Arab-Israeli relations a decade ago would never have happened if America had ignored the will of the United Nations.

He also urged the President to resist his tendency to bear grudges, advising his son to bridge the rift between the United States, France and Germany.

"You've got to reach out to the other person. You've got to convince them that long-term friendship should trump short-term adversity," he said.

The former President's comments reflect unease among the Bush family and its entourage at the way that George W. Bush is ignoring international opinion and overriding the institutions that his father sought to uphold. Mr Bush Sr is a former US Ambassador to the UN and comes from a family steeped in multi-lateralist traditions.

Although not addressed to his son in person, the message, in a speech at Tufts University in Massachusetts, was unmistakeable. Mr Bush Sr even came close to conceding that opponents of his son's case against President Saddam Hussein, who he himself is on record as loathing, have legitimate cause for concern.

He said that the key question of how many weapons of mass destruction Iraq held "could be debated". The case against Saddam was "less clear" than in 1991, when Mr Bush Sr led an international coalition to expel invading Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Objectives were "a little fuzzier today", he added.

After the Gulf War, Mr Bush Sr steered Israel and its Arab neighbours to the Madrid conference, a stepping stone to the historic Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accords, in much the same way that the present President has talked about the removal of Saddam as opening the way to a wider peace in the region.

In an ominous warning for his son, Mr Bush Sr said that he would have been able to achieve nothing if he had jeopardised future relations by ignoring the UN. "The Madrid conference would never have happened if the international coalition that fought together in Desert Storm had exceeded the UN mandate and gone on its own into Baghdad after Saddam and his forces."

Also drawing on the lessons of 1991, he said that it was imperative to mend fences with allies immediately, rather than waiting until after a war. He had been infuriated with the decision of King Hussein of Jordan to side with Saddam rather than the US, but while criticising the Jordanian leader in public and freezing $41 million in US aid, he also passed word to King Hussein that he understood his domestic tensions.

Mr Bush Jr, who is said never to forget even relatively minor slights, has alarmed analysts with the way in which he has allowed senior Administration figures such as Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, aggressively to criticise France and Germany.

There are, however, signs that Mr Bush Sr's message may be getting through.

Father and son talk regularly and it was, in part, pressure from Mr Bush Sr's foreign policy coterie, that helped to persuade the President to go to the UN last September.


I wonder if this is enough to make George H.W. Bush a "fifth columnist"...

Posted by DeLong at March 10, 2003 09:51 AM | TrackBack

Comments

I'm all for papa Bush trying to help... but shouldn't he have had this talk with Shrub when he 7?

"Now son, just 'cause France said you shouldn't kick over Saddam's Tonka truck, doesn't make France a bad person. Sometime we all have work hard to get along...."

Posted by: section321 on March 10, 2003 12:13 PM

It will be an interesting test to see if the US medias report this news.

Posted by: fberthol on March 10, 2003 01:23 PM

I would like to see the text of the speech. I find it hard to believe that there would be as open a disagreement between father and son at just this time as the writer for the London Times implies.

Posted by: jd on March 10, 2003 01:33 PM

The Times belongs to Rupert Murdoch, all 175 of whose papers on, I think, three continents are resolutely pro-war. I don't think The Times will be in the business of misrepresenting Bush Sr.

Posted by: John Isbell on March 10, 2003 02:25 PM

QUOTE

As one savvy official observed, occupying Baghdad comes at an "unpardonable expense in terms of money, lives lost and ruined regional relationships." Another expert put it this way: "We should not march into Baghdad. . . . To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us, and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero . . . assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into even greater instability."

Those comments may overemphasize the risks, but they are from top-notch analysts whose judgments I respect. The first comment was made by Colin Powell in a Foreign Affairs essay in 1992; the second is in "A World Transformed," a 1998 book by the **first President Bush.** (emphasis added.)

UNQUOTE

Losses, Before Bullets Fly, By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, 03.07.2003:
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/07/opinion/07KRIS.html

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on March 10, 2003 03:35 PM

I'm in the mood to win another bet. I predict that when the transcript of this speech surfaces, the Times story will turn out to be as phony as a three dollar bill.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on March 10, 2003 04:16 PM

well, on the other hand, maybe Daddy's "multilateralism" (or was it realpolitik?) was behind his big mistake: betraying the Kurds and Shiites, and leaving Saddam in power in 1991. Now Bush jr. must go and complete Daddy's unfinished business. Listening to Papa in those circumstances might not be little George's top priority.

Posted by: Francesco Gherardi on March 10, 2003 04:30 PM

FISH, BARREL, SHOOT.

Unfortunately for my sadistic streak, I have to travel on business tomorrow. If I didn't, and could be at my computer in the morning, I'd save this and wait until the usual suspects had made the usual fools of themselves, before springing it.

Here's the speech:

http://enews.tufts.edu/stories/030303BushSpeech.htm

Here's the question and answer session:

http://enews.tufts.edu/stories/030303BushQandA.htm

And I defy anyone to find any support at all for what the Times published, in the above.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on March 10, 2003 04:57 PM

the text of the speech is here:

http://enews.tufts.edu/stories/030303BushSpeech.htm

Read it and reach your own conclusions. IMO, Brad may be dissappointed, as, on balance, Bush Sr supports Bush Jrs position on Iraq.

-z

Posted by: zimran on March 10, 2003 04:57 PM

You have to read between the lines. This answer to a question came close to being a criticism (the emphases are mine; the best thing he can say about the current course of action is that it is "understandable"):

http://enews.tufts.edu/stories/030303BushQandA.htm

PRESIDENT BACOW: Are you troubled by the willingness of the U.S. to act unilaterally without broad based international support?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I agree with the President, it would be much better to act with as much international support as possible. The difference between '91 and today is that the objective was clearer, in a way, back when I was President. You could see the occupying forces. You could get the reports of the brutality of the Iraqi soldiers to the Kuwaiti women, and to the torture of the young men. You could see that the forces, in my view, were determined to go even further south to try to take over -- that was my view -- to take over Saudi Arabia. Today it's LESS CLEAR.

The violations of the U.N. resolutions by Saddam Hussein are clear. But, the question is how much does he have in a way of weapons of mass destruction? That could be DEBATED. But, I think, most people conclude that he has not done what he was called on to do, to fully disarm. So, it's a little fuzzier today.

But, then you have another ingredient today that we didn't have back then. You saw September 11th. Now, I'm not saying that this is a big conspiracy between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, but the United States must do what it can to protect itself and its friends against the use of weapons of mass destruction. And here's somebody that's violated these norms. And, I think, that it is UNDERSTANDABLE we're trying to get him to live within those resolutions, and whether we stay together enough to make him change his ways without fighting, I don't know, I just don't know.

Posted by: MikeL on March 10, 2003 05:31 PM

"To put the Middle East back [...] will require [...] Israeli's and Palestinians to sit down and talk to each other. It's not going to be solved if those talks somehow can't be renewed, and somehow can't be moved forward."
(from the same speech.)

Now, if I wrote this here in my name, I'd be treated as a lunatic or an anti-Semite or both.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on March 10, 2003 06:06 PM

I am still confused at to why Iraq, why now (without the UN)? To stop tomorrow's Iraq? What about North Korea or possibly Iran? I don't presume to know better than the President with all the intelligence resources he has available, but I wish the reasoning were more consistent. Being a U.S. citizen living abroad I often end up defending our apparent arrogance toward the rest of the world. Consistency would go a long way towards helping me back him up.

Posted by: Amused Reader on March 10, 2003 06:06 PM

P.S. And one could easily argue that George H.W. Bush has (voluntarily) let go of a perfectly timely opportunity to come out as strongly supportive of his son's policies for the Middle East. How can some read such support in this speech is a mistery to me....

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on March 10, 2003 06:13 PM

"And I defy anyone to find any support at all for what the Times published, in the above."

Time's article:

"Drawing on his own experiences before and after the 1991 Gulf War, Mr Bush Sr said that the brief flowering of hope for Arab-Israeli relations a decade ago would never have happened if America had ignored the will of the United Nations."


Bush speech:

"As long as I live, I will never forget walking into that peace conference at Madrid that followed the Desert Storm with Gorbachev at my side and see a room full of Arabs and Israeli's sitting across from each other beginning to talk about peace. It made a profound impression on me. And, I believe, it can happen again. As long as I live I can't get it out of my mind because it was so very emotional.

Incidentally, the Madrid conference would never have happened if the international coalition that fought together in Desert Storm had acceded the U.N. mandate and gone on on its own if the United States had gone on on its own, had gone into Baghdad after Saddam and his forces had surrendered and agreed to disarm. The coalition would have instantly shattered. And the political capital that we had gained as a result of our principle restraint to jumpstart the peace process would have been lost. We would have lost all support from our coalition, with the possible exception of England. And we would have lost all support from the smaller nations in the United Nations as well."

Posted by: ben on March 10, 2003 06:18 PM

The speech also draws a parallel with WW2:

"I would ask them hypothetically, 'Were we wrong back in 1942 – Had we gone into World War II earlier to save a million Jews, and to save one million Poles, would that have been wrong to use force?' I don't know how the protestors say, 'No war on any circumstance,' would answer a question like that. But, I think, there is such a concept as a just war."

Unfortunately, historical parallels with WW2 are almost always hazardous in the present context. The fact is that Germany declared war on the United States a few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday 7 December 1941.

William Shirer in his book: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (chp. 26), reported that Roosevelt and Hull had been under some pressure to have Congress declare war on Germany and Italy on December 8 when that step was taken against Japan but they had decided to wait. Shirer put in a footnote: "My own impression in Washington at that moment was that it might be difficult for President Roosevelt to get Congress to declare war on Germany. There seemed to be a strong feeling in both Houses as well as in the Army and Navy that the country ought to concentrate its efforts on defeating Japan and not take on the additional burden of fighting Germany at the same time."

Posted by: Bob Briant on March 10, 2003 07:16 PM

For illuminating analysis right on topic:

Bush vs. Bush: The coming Iraq war represents the president's ultimate rebellion against his father, By Jake Tapper, Salon 03.11.03

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2003/03/11/bush_war/index.html

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on March 12, 2003 04:22 PM

Patrick,

While the article did rearrange the speech for effect, Bush The Elder clearly is making the case for multilateral cooperation and warning that unilateral action would be ill-advised. So while I think the Times articel framed the comments in a more powerful way than they were given it does not serve your point of view either to pretend there isn't a warning / criticism made, even if it is subtle (I don't think it is actaully).

Posted by: Patrick R,. Sullivan on March 14, 2003 12:11 PM

Patrick,

While the article did rearrange the speech for effect, Bush The Elder clearly is making the case for multilateral cooperation and warning that unilateral action would be ill-advised. So while I think the Times articel framed the comments in a more powerful way than they were given it does not serve your point of view either to pretend there isn't a warning / criticism made, even if it is subtle (I don't think it is actaully).

Posted by: Patrick R,. Sullivan on March 14, 2003 12:12 PM

The above comments were by me, not Patrick R. Sullivan. I booted the name field.

Posted by: Mapei123 on March 14, 2003 12:18 PM
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